Mourning jewels are beautifully detailed little works of art filled with meaning and sentiment. But why did people create and wear them? And are some pieces really made with human hair? Keep reading for an introduction to all things mourning by our resident expert, Sarah Nehama. Then get up close and personal with spectacular, rare examples of mourning jewelry at our event on November 21.
What is Mourning Jewelry? by Sarah Nehama
Mourning jewelry was worn by Europeans (primarily in Protestant countries) and Americans as a way of honoring and remembering those that have passed, from famous figures, to family members. The tradition dates back to the 16th century, but had its inception as an industry in the mid-17th century. It is now associated mainly with the Victorian era, popularized by Queen Victoria after the death of her husband, Prince Albert in 1861.
Mourning jewelry has its roots in the tradition of memento mori, or vanitas art (and jewelry), with the earlier jewels using much of the same iconography such as skulls, skeletons, winged hourglasses, etc. It also shares similarities with sentimental jewelry throughout the same time periods, notably as a token of love and remembrance, and also in the use of hair, (though not all mourning jewelry utilizes hair). Never intended to be morbid, mourning jewelry was a popular means of combining fashion with sentiment, particularly the sentiment of grief over loss.
Who are the players? Get to know a little bit more Doyle & Doyle, Sarah Nehama, and Hannah Blount.
About Doyle & Doyle
Elizabeth and Irene Pamela Doyle are sisters who have always loved jewelry, ever since they were little girls playing in their grandmother's jewelry box. At Doyle & Doyle, we believe that the most wonderful thing about jewelry is that it's personal to you, it becomes part of your life and your life story. We offer an unparalleled handpicked selection of vintage, antique, and estate jewelry. These are pieces that are meant to be worn and enjoyed, not kept hidden away in a jewelry box. Our boutique also features our signature Heirloom by Doyle & Doyle collection of antique inspired original designs.
Doyle & Doyle also serves as a resource for the community and is committed to education about jewelry history and design. Led by the Doyles’ lifelong love of history, Doyle & Doyle is always inspired by the past while keeping firmly in the present.
About Sarah Nehama
Sarah Nehama is a working metalsmith and antique jewelry collector based in Providence, RI. Sarah received a degree in Art History from Boston University and studied jewelry making at the century-old North Bennett Street School in Boston's North End. She also learned the ancient technique of high-karat gold granulation with Cecilia Bauer in her New York City studio.
In 2012, Sarah co-curated the exhibition, In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, MA. She authored the companion volume by the same name, and was a major lender to the exhibition. Her collection contains jewelry dating from c. 1660-1918 and she continues to collect and now sell antique mourning jewelry and art. Since then, Sarah has lectured on the topic of mourning and sentimental jewelry at museums, historical societies, jewelry associations, and antique symposia, both in the US and in Australia.
About Hannah Blount
The daughter of a fisherman and a seamstress, Hannah was raised in the tradition of hand skills, hard work, and dedication. In their weathered island home, she and her six siblings learned how to entertain themselves amidst the chaos that comes with such a large family. These familiar moments inspired her to create beauty of her own.
As such, infatuation with memory, narrative and history emanates throughout Hannah Blount Jewelry. The Memento Mori studies within the scrimshaw collection combine naturalistic elegance with gothic motifs and eerie sentiment. Naturally drawn to the spectral and macabre, Hannah’s admiration for Victorian mourning jewelry can be found in her work modernizing the traditional beauty of hand-etched adornments. Memento Mori adornments were reflections on mortality and the “vanity of earthly life”: the duality found in these beautiful pieces that symbolize the severity of death inspired Hannah to create her scrimshaw skulls.
Now that you’ve had an introduction to mourning jewelry, here are the jewels themselves! Shop this sneak peek of the event and start your own collection: